by Lise Mendal, Mike Schiedel, and Michael Surbrook

"I need some air," Patty said abruptly and stood up from the table, teeking her breakfast dishes over to the sink as she strapped on her knife and grabbed her sisters jacket.

She stomped out of the clinic without much of an idea of where to go, but she had a few creds in her pocket, and needed a new jacket. She headed North, towards Bartertown. It was a hike, but not an impossible one, and not through any parts of the Zone she was afraid to go, and she needed to work off a little steam. With any luck, she'd find some scagg who desperately needed his ass handed to him.

She was a good portion of the way there when she heard the sounds of combat. Barely pausing to pushback, she slipped around the corner, directly towards the gunfire.

She rounded the corner just as the shooting was over. There were about a dozen or so scaggs dressed like Yakuza, armed with mismatched boomsticks surrounding a single, diminutive figure—from a safe distance. The 'monkey in the middle' had black hair, dressed in a long tan duster, brown boots and a black jumpsuit. The figure had the biggest bladed whatever-the-hell that is she'd ever seen. The weapon had been put to good use, because a handful of Yaks had been recently cut down - hell, some of them seemed to have been cut clean in half.

Blade was an eerie sight as she came around the corner. A young, bald girl, leather clad from head to foot, with snow swirling around her general area in a distinctly different pattern than that caused by the wind, her arms at her side, and empty of weaponry, but battle ready nonetheless.

The Yaks nearest to her turned towards her, obviously loath to turn their back entirely on the little threat. The majority of the Yak seemed to be moving in slow motion, as if unable to comprehend what had just happened.

"Well, well," said Blade. "Looks like somebody's being picked on here..."

The somebody in question made a prodigious leap, and ended up on the roof of one of the nearby buildings. A storm of bullets followed the form. The Yak closest to Blade opened up on her. Without moving a muscle, Blade flung the projectiles back at her attacker. He spun down while eating his own ammo.

The rest of the Yaks seemed torn between pursuing their original target and continuing against Blade. She found herself drawing some more fire, and drew back hurriedly as a shotgun blast made an impressive pattern in the snow about her feet.

Then she saw the grenade hurtling through the air at her.




The explosion was placed nicely at the feet of the Yakuza who had been so ill-advised as to launch it. His companions were... slowed, to say the least.

Blade took a moment to glance around. She caught a glimpse of a diminutive form on the roof of a nearby building. "There you are, Shorty," she breathed to herself, and swung up a nearby fire escape. There was a truly awkward moment, but a little teke and the bottom of the latter was within reach.

She scrambled ungracefully to the top of the building, where she found herself face to shadowed face with the petite victim of the Yakuza's attentions, and the remnants of three Yak who seemed to have been in the same position moments before. There was a strangely slow motion feel to the encounter. Blade was over half-a-head taller than the blade wielder.

Feeling somewhat foolish, Blade took a step forward, to avoid being right at the edge of the roof, and half growled, "Looks like you have a way of making friends..."

"What do you care? Unless those are your friends too..." 'Shorty' shrugged, and twirled the weapon (half blade, half handle, and fully as long as she was tall) in a tight circle, ending with the tip in a lowered position near the rooftop.

Blade snorted. "If they're friends of mine, they have a frakkin' odd way of showing it," she pointed out.

From the street below came faint shouts and running feet. Blade heard a 'clang' from behind her.

"I see. Well, I'm a little busy now, perhaps you could come back later?"

Blade glanced behind her, and saw a couple of Yaks heading up the ladder. "Yeah, good idea," she said.

Redirecting her telekinesis from it's swirling pushback form, she used it to slow the pursuit directly. As she reached out with her psychic energy, she could feel the warning throb of impending brainburn. Through the warning haze, she 'grabbed' the lead Yakuza and threw him into the one behind, who managed to hang on to the flimsy ladder despite his buddy landing on him.

Blade felt the impact of a shot... It was a trivial impact, one her telekinetic abilities would easily deflect, if she had enough time to react after throwing the Yak. As it was, the bullet bored into her soft flesh just as it would anyone else's. A dark blur raced past her, and everything faded to black.

Later, when the blackness receded, Blade found herself staring up at 'Shorty'. The small woman had on a long duster over a black bodysuit, but a glint of silver near the shoulders betrayed cyberarms. Her hair was shoulder length and black, and she had some sort of war paint smeared under her eyes.

At the moment, 'Shorty' was too busy wrapping a length of cloth around Blade's middle to care about Blade's visual examination. "What exactly were you trying to do?" she asked in a voice that told Blade just how stupid she was.

"Hey, I wuz just mindin' my own business, goin' fer a wak, and I came across a buncha Yaks attackin a midgit—what was I supposed to do?" Blade mumbled back voice that admitted just how stupid she had been.

"Maybe you should try thinking before you act. It might help you live longer," the stranger said, tartly. She scooped Blade up into her arms. "This will probably hurt, but I need to move fast." Bending her legs, she then leaped from the roof to the street, landing in a spray of broken street and snow and took off running in a direction that Blade quickly realized would lead take them back to Lydia's.

Neo looked critically at the injured girl, his cheek twitching in sympathy; gutshots hurt. He briefly warred with himself about getting involved, especially since he didn't like buying into trouble without getting paid back, but hell, she was just a kid. He held the door open as Lydia and the 'borg rushed the girl inside, having learned long ago to stay out of the way when the healer was working. Besides, seeing Lydia's uncanny ability to sense pain in action always gave him the creeps.

Turning to the 'borg, Neo gave her the once-over. That big knife on her back looked nasty, but probably slow. Glancing back at the girl, he shook his head.

"Pretty nasty stuff," he said quietly to the 'borg. "Who'd she piss off?"

Tetsutenshi shrugged, her eyes glancing up and down Neo's black-garbed frame. "She seemed to think I needed help with the Yak."

Neo raised an eyebrow. "I'm surprised anyone would think you'd need help when you didn't ask for it," he said mildly.

He had expected the once-over—after all, hadn't he just done the same thing? He knew exactly what she'd see too; it was a carefully cultivated image.

Black, of course; high black sythleather boots, pants, longcoat, half-gloves, and a black tee. His skin looked pale in comparison, caught between black clothing and black hair. He looked like a stereotype and hell, he knew it, but nobody hired a guy in jeans and a sweat shirt for his kind of work.

He was mildly attractive, even a bit delicate looking. Delicacy wasn't an idea that tended to stay around long, though, not with the 'ware he carted around when he was in the 'Zone. The hilts from a couple of combat knives protruded from each boot top, and he was careful to move just so, so a glimpse of the pair of bizarre-looking SMGs slung from his shoulders could be seen under his coat. He had a bit of a rep, here in the 'Zone, and he wanted to make sure the 'borg caught it. And heck, everybody knew that the idiot dressed all in black leather who carried around paired PN-90's was a damned fast bastard. Well, maybe not everybody, but he was working on it.

He looked back at the kid, watching briefly as Lydia continued to work on her injury. Looking back at the 'borg, he narrowed his eyes slightly.

"So, I guess that particular group of Yak aren't going to be coming looking for you again... ever?"

"That group yes... their fellow soldiers? Depends. I'd like to think they'd gotten the hint by now, but you never can tell. Some of those Yak are strong on vengeance and short on brains." Tetsutenshi brushed at the stains on her duster, metal fingers smearing the rust-colored splotches, "And all that vengeance sure plays hell with my wardrobe."

Neo grinned briefly. "Tell me about it. People are always seeming to want to bleed all over you at just the wrong time." Again his gaze was drawn back to the injured girl, almost irresistibly.

"She should be all right, Lydia's a great doc. But then again," he said shrewdly, "you probably knew that already. Come here often? I don't think I've seen you around here before." He offered a hand to the short 'borg, and it was fairly obvious that he's no stranger to augmentation himself; wired at least. "You can call me Neo."

The cyborg stared pointedly at his hand for a few moments before ignoring it. "You can call me Tetsutenshi, everyone else does. And I haven't seen you around here either, so we're even."

Neo casually pulled back his hand. "True enough, Tetsu. Say, what's her story anyhow," he asked, inclining his head towards the girl. "A Teek, I'm guessing, either that or just an idiot. She just waded in unasked?" He shook his head. Some people just love to ask for trouble.


Neo quirked any eyebrow.

"I said my name is Tetsutenshi. Not 'Tetsu'. If that's too much for you you can cut it down to Angel."

Neo grinned. "An interesting short form. All right, Tetsutenshi then."

Tetsutenshi looked back at Lydia's clinic. "I'm guessing she's a PK with an over-developed sense of fair play. She saw me surrounded by the Yak and decided to even the odds. She did help in distracting them, but paid the price for jumping in without thinking. Maybe she'll learn."

"Maybe." Neo didn't sound too hopeful. "The good thing is, around here at that age they either learn or they tend to disappear, I've noticed." He chuckled. "I'm not sure how I made it past that age myself in one piece. Lucky, I guess." He didn't ask about the cause of the Yaks' beef with the petite cyborg. It wasn't any of his business, and even if it was she didn't seem the type to tell him anything.

"It's the Zone, a lot of people disappear here."

Looking back at the clinic again, Neo shook his head. "I was just here so Lydia could take out some stitches, but looks like I'll have to come back later." He pulled a tiny remote out of an inner jacket pocket, and as his jacket parted the massive S&W Assault Pistol strapped to the front of his left thigh became visible for a moment. He pointed the remote at a slick-looking black BMW 'cycle which chirped as the security system disengaged. Neo tucked the remote away again and came out with a pair of dark sunglasses. Flipping the shades open with a well-practiced motion, he slid them onto his face and nodded to the short 'borg.

"You hear of anyone who needs a solo for standup or wallflower, drop 'em my handle and I'll owe you one."

Tetsutenshi glanced at Neo and then the clinic. "The Underground's a better place to make an offer like that. I don't try to fix work for people, to much of a risk."

Neo nodded. "Your call, I just try to keep my name in wherever." A frown crossed his face. "What's the deal with you so concerned about that kid?" he asked. "The way you keep looking over there you'd think she was your sister or something."

"What?" Tetsutenshi frowned. "Look Neo, I brought her here 'cause she decided that I needed help and got shot for it. I'd hate for her to die after I told her I'd get her help. She may have been stupid, but she meant well."

Neo held his hands up placatingly. Although he's wearing half-gloves, there's an oval hole cut out of each palm. "Okay, sorry, no big. I've gotta agree with you, getting your ticket punched is too high a price to pay for just lending a hand." He smiled then, a somehow boyish smile. "Like I said, though, Lydia's great. She should be able to put the girl back together without too much trouble." With a slight nod he mounted his 'cycle, the tails of his coat falling to either side of the sleek chassis.

The Underground, he thought to himself. Not a bad idea, I haven't been by there in a few days, maybe something's come up. With a twist of the key his beamer started, a bass rumble that settled into a smooth purr of well-tuned machinery. Shifting into gear, Neo headed off towards another part of town at speeds just short of reckless.

Watching him leave, Tetsutenshi shook her head. Idiot. she thought to herself before striding back the way she'd come.

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